Phil Kessel called out by Leafs coach for rejecting gameplan

Phil Kessel called out by Leafs coach for rejecting gameplan

Something every politician learns early in their career is that there are no safe audiences. Assume every mic is hot. Assume every face in the crowd will go public with the words and ideas they’re hearing, no matter the venue.

The same apparently goes for NHL assistant coaches, as Steve Spott has now discovered. An anecdote told at a coaches’ clinic last month has sparked a raging debate over Toronto Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel, his willingness to be coached and his coaches’ willingness to push back at him.

Toronto Star writer Dave Feschuk, who knows his way around a takeout piece on the Leafs, revealed the comments on Wednesday. They centered around a breakout plan Spott was tasked to game-plan so that Toronto’s forwards could more effectively leave their own zone.

From the Star:

“Spotter said that when he went to Phil (with the breakout play), Phil said, I’m not doing it,” said one of the attendees, a former professional player.

Said another: “Spott was saying (that) these are the things I’ve got to deal with now that I’ve never had to deal with. In the AHL (where Spott coached last season with the Toronto Marlies), when you’re the coach what you say goes. Whereas now that I’m here (in the NHL), I’ve got a guy telling me: No. I’m not going to do that.”

(Ed. Note: Let's add "Spotter" to the pantheon of "creative" hockey nicknames. Sigh.)

Naturally, Spott’s next move was to take this to the boss. He told Leafs coach Randy Carlyle that he received pushback from Kessel. From the Star:

“Spott said Carlyle’s attitude was that we’re fired before (Kessel is) out of here, the hierarchy doesn’t want to deal with Phil. He scores 30 (goals) a year and that’s all they want,” said one of the attendees. “(Spott said) Phil hates coaches. He hates Randy. He hates me and I don’t even know him yet.”

That last part was labeled “tongue-in-cheek” by one attendee and “shocking” by another.

My Hockey Scout has a great breakdown of the breakout scheme that Spott was suggesting, revealing its virtues and drawbacks.

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So what are we left with here, as Feschuk’s anonymous cub reporters pull back the curtain on the Leafs?

1. That superstars carry sway. I know, shocking. This may be the first documented case of a star player disagreeing with an assistant coach’s idea and then, as the Star notes, eventually working with the coaches to find a compromise. Nope. Never happens anywhere else. Just Toronto. With guys named Phil.

2. Snark aside, the revelation that Carlyle basically looks away at this situation is either an indictment of modern-day coaches’ inability to coach players who make exponentially more than they do or an indictment of Carlyle as a self-aware lame duck. We'll go ahead and guess the latter.

3. Steve Spott has probably told his last anecdote at a coaches’ clinic that identifies players by name.